Registration but Not Monitoring – Really?

What’s been said?

Most home educators will be aware that yesterday, 2 April, the DfE finally responded to last year’s Call for Evidence. Just under a year after that consultation Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, announced his department’s response by writing in the Telegraph, “We want to introduce a home schooling register, so no child can fall between the cracks.”[£] The article is summed up by these paragraphs:

“Choosing to educate a child at home is a huge decision. I know that many parents who do go down this road will make big sacrifices to give their children a strong start in life. Some of them may even give up their own careers – or at least put them on hold – to meet the educational standards all children deserve.

“I have nothing but admiration for them and congratulate them on preparing their children so selflessly for the future.

“But we must be careful. The term “home education” has now acquired a much broader meaning than it used to. It is now a catch-all phrase, used to refer to all children not in a registered school. So while this does include those actually getting a really good education at home, it also includes children who are not getting an education at all, or being educated in illegal schools where they are vulnerable to dangerous influences – the truth is, we just don’t know.”

Whilst it is too soon to comment fully on the new documents, here we provide an initial response.

Hinds’ headline effectively sums up what is being proposed. EHE is no longer practised solely by dedicated and determined parents. Apart from concerns surrounding possible abuse, the rising number of parents failed by the school system for a variety of reasons have now justified in minsters’ minds the establishment of a register of children “not in school” – they choose their words carefully!

Alongside their response, the DfE has also published two new guidance documents, one for local authorities, the other for parents. On another website they published the Children not in school consultation with proposals for setting up a register, though §1.8 suggests “that full roll-out might be two to three years away.” Linked from the above page is the Consultation document and three assessment papers. (All relevant links are on our English Consultations page) The most important point to note in the published response to last year’s consultation is found in §4.10 “The proposals above do not include:.. any specific new powers or duties for local authorities to monitor the suitability of home education.” [Underlining original] However, careful reading of the new guidance implies that the government thinks LAs already have the monitoring powers they need!

Why does it matter?

On days like yesterday it’s very easy to feel that all the effort of last year’s consultation was pointless, and it’s hard to argue against that emotion. But the stand against the erosion of parental responsibilities must go on. This is not an issue for HE families alone, but for all who value safeguarding children and parental responsibilities from an intrusive state.

This is not, as many have portrayed it, a balancing of the rights of a child against those of their parents. Rather it is the state undermining the rights of parents to teach their children according to their own philosophical or religious convictions, claiming that it can impose its world-view on every child in the country in order to “safeguard” them. This is the common link with the current debate over RSE in schools which is threatening to increase the number of HE children in the near future.

The guidance documents set out what the DfE believes to be the existing legal position. An initial reading suggests only a little change from those which were consulted on last year. For example, the new documents offer no evidence that EHE is being used to radicalise children. (And in his article Hinds admitted, “the truth is, we just don’t know.”)

Instead, whilst recognising that there is no requirement for HE parents to teach them, both guidance documents state that “education at home should not directly conflict with the Fundamental British Values as defined in government guidance” (Parents §2.10.b), adding that if a LA suspects otherwise, then it should not “regard that education as being ‘suitable’.” (LAs §9.4.c)

The problem however is that FBV are imprecisely defined and have already been used in schools to override parental authority. This expectation alone – and it isn’t the only example – reveals an underlying assumption in the new guidance that LA’s already have authority to monitor the education a child receives at home.

What can I do?

More careful reading of these documents is obviously required before anyone can come to a considered opinion about them. Therefore keep in touch with the wider EHE community and do all you can to contribute to the discussions.

We encourage you to read the consultation document at least, and think about how you would answer the questions. The HE Byte Team will be publishing further thoughts in future, so keep an eye on what we are saying.

Remember too that not everyone agrees with Hind’s closing comment:

“But there are many other children not in school and we cannot continue to let vulnerable children vanish under the radar, where their potential is left untapped and instead they are likely to be drawn into a spiral of underachievement or worse.”

Yesterday the Independent’s Education Correspondent Eleanor Busby asked, “Should we be concerned about the rise in home schooling?” [£] She concluded:

“The large rise in home schooling is a concern – but not because thousands of children are at risk or radicalisation or other dangers. The growth in home education is a worry because it reflects a significant dissatisfaction with the state school system.

“A register is a sticking plaster to a much bigger problem. Greater funding and reduced pressure over exam results is needed to stem the flow of children out of state school education.”